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American playwright Mike Lew gives us a version of Shakespeare’s Richard III set in a US High School. Disabled teenager Richard’s campaign to become Class President parallels Richard III’s quest for power, with all of the characters’ names referencing Shakespeare’s. I thought it was very clever and thought-provoking.

Richard Gloucester is a seventeen-year-old who believes his life is predetermined by his disability. His classmates include football captain Eddie Ivy, the current Class President, a magnet for the girls, and Eddie’s ex Anne Margaret, wannabe dancer and choreographer. Clarissa Duke is following her own evangelical path whilst Barbara Buckingham, also disabled, seems to be comfortable with who she is. Richard, Eddie and Clarissa are competing to be this year’s Class President. Richard is getting a helping hand from teacher Elizabeth York, initially trying to keep his candidature under wraps. Eddie is resting on his laurels and his popularity. Clarissa seems unlikely to be anything other than a niche candidate. Richard’s campaign unfolds, and proves to be as machiavellian as Richard III’s.

The play examines attitudes to, and the attitudes of, disabled people. Richard is on the receiving end of vile abuse, but he too is treating people with contempt. The American High School setting may seem a bit alien to a British audience, but the parallels with Shakespeare’s character may be even clearer in this world. Australian actor Daniel Monks invests masses of both physical and emotional energy into the role of Richard; a hugely impressive performance. With Susan Wokoma as the teacher, the only adult, Ruth Madeley as Buckingham, Alice Hewkin as Clarissa, Siena Kelly as Anne Margaret and Callum Adams as Eddie, he is surrounded by excellent performances.

I very much liked new Donmar AD Michael Longhurst’s production, and Chloe Lamford’s school gum setting, which was clever and entertaining, but had me thinking about the issues long after I left the theatre. Definitely one to catch.

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